Elevate Your SEO: Tips to Improve Your Organic Search Results
By Peter Decoteau
If you’re not working full-time in digital marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) may just be a vague concept you’ve heard tossed around that doesn’t seem to have much concrete meaning.
If that’s the case, you’re not entirely wrong! SEO can often seem nebulous because it encompasses so much and also changes frequently. So let’s start with a simple definition: SEO is a set of actions you can take to help search engines (like Google) read and index your site better, which in turn helps your website show up higher in their “organic” (unpaid) search results. By regularly practicing good SEO for your website, you essentially set yourself up with free advertising in front of an “intent-based” audience—an audience that is showing a direct intent to use your service.
Given how important search results are in a service-based industry like healthcare, it’s a wonder SEO is not constantly near the top of the marketing priorities for most physical therapy providers. While the amount of work required to implement a comprehensive review and overhaul of your website’s SEO may be a timely and costly process, below are some simple steps you can take right now to help elevate your SEO and boost your organic search rankings.
1. KNOW WHAT SEARCH ENGINES ARE LOOKING FOR
The first, and perhaps most obvious, step you can take in your SEO journey is to understand what search engines are looking for when they index a site so you can understand the foundation of good SEO. Where better to get that information from the sultan of search itself, Google?
According to Google, the primary considerations when “crawling” (looking through) a webpage are site structure, site security, page-load speed, content quality, content relevance, and mobile friendliness. Essentially, Google wants to make sure your page is fast, secure, easy to navigate and, most importantly, relevant to the search.1 Almost anything you can do to improve on these factors will improve your search rankings (with a few caveats mentioned later).
2. FOCUS ON RELEVANCE AND UPDATE OFTEN
Search engines earn their business by presenting the most relevant and up-to-date webpages to users based on their keyword search terms—i.e., the words used in a search. Therefore, the more text and content you can include on your webpage that overlaps with common search terms used by your target audience, the better. This includes general webpage copy, like your introductory paragraph or your list of services, as well as media and content, like embedded images and videos.
It’s important to note that using broad keywords may be helpful to rank for broad search terms—such as “Physical Therapy” or “Sports Medicine—but specificity in your content will help you get in front of a more targeted audience. This is why it’s important to build separate landing pages for your most important searches; someone searching for physical therapy for back pain in Worcester, Massachusetts likely does not want to land on a page for a clinic in Boston that specializes in post-operative rehab. Search engines will notice when users visit and leave a website quickly, will (rightfully) think the website is not relevant to the search, and will lower that site’s rankings.
3. BEEF UP YOUR ONLINE REVIEWS
One of the primary ways search engines can tell if you are a legitimate, relevant and quality business is by taking the word of your clients. Google will, of course, boost the rankings of a business that has received lots of five-star reviews on its own platform, but Google Reviews aren’t the only ones worth cultivating.
Make sure to ask your patients, either in person or via email (with a link, if possible) to help out by leaving a review on Google, Yelp, Facebook, or even platforms like the Better Business Bureau. Not only do these reviews help improve your search rankings, they often help potential patients decide on your business over another, can be used as quality content for your website and on social media, and can even be embedded into your landing pages, which improves your search relevance.
4. OPTIMIZE YOUR WEBSITE’S STRUCTURE/HIERARCHY
When reading your website, a high priority for search engine crawlers is how well-organized your website is. The reason for this is twofold: first, crawlers are bots that can’t do complex decision-making, so if your website is not organized or intuitive in its structure, the bots will simply not know where to look. Second, in the interest of sending users to the best possible destination, search engines are inclined to promote websites that are easy to navigate.
In order to make your website as easy to read and navigate for both bots and humans, it’s important to create a hierarchy that organizes your pages and content in a way that is most logical. This means making sure all your pages fall under the category of home page, main category or sub-category, and your URL structure reflects that logic. In practice, this would look like:
You can go deeper with your sub-categorization, but it’s generally advisable to keep your hierarchy as “shallow” as possible.
Once you’ve optimized your site structure, create a sitemap—a file that maps out the pages and media on your site. This is the first spot search engine crawlers will look to when reading your site, so they can more quickly and easily reference the relevant information and point to it. A clean, organized, and comprehensive sitemap can be the difference between a top tier search ranking and a third-page listing.
A FEW IMPORTANT CAVEATS
With an almost infinite number of websites to sift through, it understandably takes time for search engines to reindex websites that have been updated. If you make changes and don’t see your rankings improve right away, don’t fret! It may take a month or even longer to see results. If, on the other hand, you don’t see improvements after six months, you may need to make some additional changes.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that search engine “rules” for indexing sites change often, so a regular review of both your site’s pages and universal SEO best-practices is essential. These rules often include key elements of a website a search engine may look for, as well as some things that can dock your rankings. That latter point is critical; problematic or untrustworthy websites are frequently trying to “game” search engines to appear legitimate, so the guidelines are constantly shifting. This means that actions that are considered good SEO practice today can actually hurt your rankings next year. Be vigilant and proactive, and your business will rise in search rankings.
1Google. SEO Starter Guide. https://developers.google.com/search/docs/beginner/seo-starter-guide. Accessed December 12, 2021.
Peter Decoteau is the Director of Marketing at Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Centers (PTSMC), Connecticut’s largest private practice physical therapy company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.